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Rankins focuses on future at Alcorn State University

LORMAN — Alfred Rankins Jr.’s return to the Alcorn State University campus today will be somewhat of a homecoming for the man charged to be the university’s 19th president.

The campus and university are ones Rankins knows well, having graduated from Alcorn with a degree in agricultural economics.

But Rankins, 42, said he won’t have much time to dwell on the past if he wants to keep the nation’s oldest historically black land-grant university moving into the future.

“I really can’t get caught up in the nostalgia of it all, because there’s a lot of work to do,” Rankins said. “It will be good to come back to Alcorn, but my focus will be on rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”

The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning announced the unanimous decision to appoint Rankins as president March 4 after a fairly rapid presidential search.

Rankins was named as the preferred candidate by the board days before the announcement and met with groups for listening sessions at the university’s Lorman and Natchez campuses before being selected.

Rankins said meeting with the groups was a valuable time for him to learn what exactly his next steps should be at the university.

“What I heard when I was on campus over those days kind of reinforced what I knew going in, and that was the need to focus on the students,” he said. “There’s a lot of areas I need to pay attention to and a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Several staff and faculty members at the Natchez campus expressed hope the university would continue to keep the campus in the loop and not solely focus on the Lorman campus.

Rankins said he couldn’t agree more.

“I think the Natchez campus is very critical to the mission at Alcorn, and that campus should not feel like it’s separate from the main campus because it’s a part of Alcorn,” Rankins said. “I plan on visiting the Natchez campus frequently, because I want to know anything and everything that’s going on down there.”

Rankins also met with various community leaders and elected officials to find out how they saw the Natchez campus playing a role in the community.

“There’s a lot of potential in Natchez to expand what we’re doing, but we want to make sure that’s based on what the needs are in Natchez,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of Natchez and southwest Mississippi.”

Mayor Butch Brown was one of the elected officials who met with Rankins and said he was impressed with the new president’s vision for the future of the university.

“Those of us that have met with him are extremely pleased and excited that he has been selected,” Brown said. “He has pledged his effort to make certain that we grow this campus and that there is a place for this campus to operate in Natchez.”

Brown said Rankins reminded him of the late Alcorn president Clinton Bristow, who put forth the idea of Alcorn being a “communiversity” — a term Bristow coined to signify a strong partnership between the community and university.

“I relayed all of the history the city and university was able to do under Bristow’s administration, which included getting the farmers market program going here and expanding the nursing program,” Brown said. “I’m just tickled to death to have (Rankins) serving as president.”

A Greenville native, Rankins left his job as deputy commissioner for academic and student affairs for the Institutions of Higher Learning for the Alcorn position. Rankins also served as acting president for Mississippi Valley State University for one year, beginning in November 2012.

The search process for a new president came after former president M. Christopher Brown II resigned in December. Brown stepped down as the board moved to suspend him during an investigation into purchasing violations.

Records show Alcorn spent almost $89,000 on furniture and renovations at the president’s house without seeking bids as required under state law. Documents also show Alcorn paid $85,000 in fees to a concert production company associated with a Brown aide, possibly violating state ethics laws. And an auditor says the school spent more than $67,000 in bond money on projects not allowed in the lending agreement.

Alcorn’s main campus is located in Lorman, with satellite campuses in Natchez and Vicksburg. The historically black university is fully accredited with seven schools and degree programs in more than 50 areas, including a nursing program.